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College Football
Jameis Winston Cleared of Florida State Conduct Violations, Attorney Says
From the Wall Street Journal of Sun, 21 Dec 2014 23:09:30 EST
Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles warms up before the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the ACC Championship game.
Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles warms up before the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the ACC Championship game. Getty Images

Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston has been found not responsible of violating the school’s student code of conduct in connection to an alleged sexual assault from 2012.

Winston, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, faced a campus disciplinary hearing in early December after a former Florida State student accused him of sexually assaulting her two years ago. The hearing, which was required by the federal gender-equity law Title IX, was overseen by Major Harding, a former Florida State Supreme Court justice brought in by the school as a neutral party.

“This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information,” Harding wrote to Winston in a five-page letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.”

Winston was accused of four violations of Florida State’s student-conduct code, which prohibits sexual acts without consent and sexual acts that create a hostile environment for another person, according to the letter. Had he been found responsible, Winston could have faced a punishment as severe as expulsion from Florida State, and he could have been sidelined for Florida State’s matchup against Oregon on Jan. 1 in the College Football Playoff semifinal, the next game in the Seminoles’ quest for back-to-back national championships.

Winston, who wasn’t charged criminally after the alleged incident, has said repeatedly that the sex was consensual. In the hearing, Winston “vehemently” contradicted the alleged victim’s version of the sexual encounter, according to the letter.

“The evidence regarding the events that unfolded between you and [the alleged victim] once in your room is irreconcilable,” the letter said. “In light of all the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other.”

The letter continues: “Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot find with any confidence that the events as set forth by you, [the alleged victim], or a particular combination thereof is more probable than not as required to find you responsible for a violation of the Code.”

Florida State officials declined to comment specifically on the decision, citing federal privacy laws, but said in a statement Sunday afternoon that it chose Harding “to remove any doubt about the integrity of this process and the result” and that its “highest priority will continue to be the safety and well-being of all our students.”

John Clune, one of the alleged victim’s attorneys, said Sunday they were “stunned and dismayed” by the outcome and would consider an appeal. “The order doesn’t even follow the student conduct code and it ignores the bulk of the evidence,” he said. “There are certainly glaring bases for appeal, but at some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold Jameis Winston responsible.”

Federal law mandated that Winston’s campus hearing, which lasted two days in early December and was based on more than 1,000 pages of documents and statements from Winston and his accuser, was adjudicated according to the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning the evidence showed it was more probable than not that Winston was responsible.

This standard used in campus sexual-assault cases is lower than the “beyond reasonable doubt” burden of proof used in criminal cases. In December 2013, a year after the alleged sexual assault, a Florida state’s attorney said he wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against Winston, who has led Florida State to 29 straight wins as its quarterback.

The campus hearing came with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigating whether Florida State’s handling of the case violated Title IX. The government agency received a complaint from Winston’s accuser in March and launched its investigation of Florida State in April. As part of the Obama administration’s effort to stop sexual assaults on college campuses, U.S. universities are required to investigate possible cases of sexual assault if they are aware of them, even if an alleged victim hasn’t filed a complaint or pressed criminal charges.

The outcome of the campus case means that Winston won’t be sidelined for Florida State’s semifinal against Oregon or, if the Seminoles win, the national championship on Jan. 12 against either Alabama or Ohio State.



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